China has been lambasted by U.S. media for politically using the Beijing Winter Olympics, as the Communist-led government tapped an Uyghur cross-country skier from the far-western Xinjiang region as one of the final torchbearers at Friday's opening ceremony.
On the occasion of the Beijing Games, President Xi Jinping has also held talks with around 20 political leaders from other nations in an apparent attempt to minimize the negative impact of a "diplomatic boycott" and bolster his clout at home.
The United States and a number of its close allies have implemented the diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics in response to human rights abuses in Xinjiang, withholding attendance by their government officials but not their athletes.
The New York Times called China's nomination of Dinigeer Yilamujiang a "provocative choice," saying it "confronted head-on one of the biggest criticisms of the country's role as host." Washington has defined China's treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang as "genocide."
NBC, which has broadcast the Beijing Games, quoted an analyst as saying, "This was a riposte to President Joe Biden for skipping these Olympics and a message to the West: China won't be lectured to on human rights, or on any other issue."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters on Monday, "The so-called genocide in Xinjiang is a lie of the century."
"We are delighted to see athletes of all ethnic groups including Yilamujiang join the Chinese sports delegation for the Beijing Winter Olympics," Zhao said, adding, "This also shows that China is a big family of ethnic unity."
On the sidelines of the Beijing Olympics, meanwhile, Xi met with political leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres for four days through Monday, according to the Foreign Ministry.
At their summit on Friday, Xi and Putin opposed further expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as Russia's tensions with the United States have been escalating with fears mounting about Moscow's possible invasion of Ukraine.
Xi was also quoted by the ministry as telling Guterres on Saturday, "Every country has the right to choose a path that suits its national realities and meets its people's needs," countering the Biden administration's labeling of China as an "autocracy."
A diplomatic source said Xi has taken the Beijing Olympics as a "window of opportunity" to increase his status in China ahead of the ruling Communist Party's twice-a-decade congress in the fall, at which Xi is set to secure a controversial third term as the nation's leader.